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UK Biobank project launched

15 March 2006
Appeared in BioNews 350

A project to collect DNA samples and medical information from half a million Britons was launched this week, after years of planning. The UK Biobank, hosted at the University of Manchester, eventually wants to recruit up to 500,000 volunteers aged between 40-69 years. Initially, 3000 people living in the south Manchester area are being invited to take part in the research, which aims to study the role of genes and environment in health and disease. The £61 million effort is being jointly funded by the UK's Medical Research Council (MRC), Department of Health, the Scottish Executive and the Wellcome Trust medical charity.

Biobank will gather, store and protect a 'vast bank' of medical information and samples, which scientists will use to study how complex interactions between genes, lifestyle and environment affect the risk of common diseases. 'Nothing like this has been attempted before in such fine detail on such a vast scale', said principal investigator Rory Collins - also Professor of Medicine and Epidemiology at the University of Oxford. 'By being so large and detailed, UK Biobank will be able to study many different risk factors together, each of which may have only modest effects on the likelihood of getting some particular disease', he added.

Biobank has attracted criticism from some scientists, who have expressed concerns over the cost and effectiveness of the project. However, according to a recent report in the Observer newspaper, some of these fears now appear to have been assuaged. A 2003 report by the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee had criticised plans for the project, saying it would divert funds away from other research. But Dr Ian Gibson, the committee's former chair, now says he is hopeful that under Collins' leadership, Biobank will prove to be a success.

The first volunteers will spend an hour at an assessment centre in Altrincham, Cheshire, during which time they will answer questions, have measurements taken and provide blood and urine samples. They will also be asked to agree to Biobank tracking their health for many years, using routine medical and other relevant records. Once this initial phase is completed, the rest of the study will start up. By the end of the year, the organisers hope that 8-10 assessment centres will be running around the UK at any one time.

Collins describes taking part in the project as being a bit like donating blood: 'you probably won't benefit, but others will. In this case it will be your children and grandchildren's generation'. He told the BBC News website that 'in 10, 20 or 30 years time we'll be able to confirm or refute various theories about how some diseases are caused', adding 'we'll be able to identify new ways of identifying diseases and preventing them'.

But one senior researcher, who wished to remain anonymous, told the BBC that they still have doubts about the data collection aspect of the project, saying that 'there's been no real consultation with scientists who know how to collect information about behaviour'. Collins says he's aware of uninformed, but not informed criticism. 'The science behind the project has been reviewed by our experts and they are telling us it's a very good project', he said.

Biobank now opening for business
BBC News Online |  15 March 2006
First volunteers sought for UK Biobank project
The Daily Telegraph |  15 March 2006
Half a million to join gene bank for life
The Observer |  12 March 2006
Multi-million pound UK Biobank underway
EurekAalert |  14 March 2006
2 April 2012 - by Cait McDonagh 
The world's largest database of medical information has opened online, allowing researchers around the world to access its contents. The UK Biobank holds anonymous information from more than 500,000 British people, making it a 'globally unique resource' according to England's chief medical officer, Dame Sally Davies...
9 May 2011 - by Chris Chatterton 
The US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced in Washington last week that the Million Veteran Program (MVP), a research project that aims to collect DNA, lifestyle and other health data from one million veterans under the care of the VA, was being rolled out nationally from 5 May 2011....
4 April 2007 - by Zulehkha Waheed 
The UK Biobank project, which aims to collect biological samples and medical information from half a million Britons, has finally got underway in Manchester, after eight years of preparation and planning. The scheme aims to recruit volunteers between the ages of 40-69, who will give up...
23 January 2006 - by Dr Jess Buxton 
In this week's BioNews, we report that the UK Biobank project is gearing up to begin recruiting volunteers - half a million of them. Potential participants aged 40-69 will be randomly selected via health registers, and asked to take part in the study. If they consent, they will need to...
20 January 2006 - by BioNews 
A project to collect DNA samples and medical information from half a million Britons is to be launched within weeks, New Scientist magazine reports. The UK Biobank, hosted at the University of Manchester, wants to recruit up to 500,000 volunteers aged between 45-69 years. The aim of the project...
6 September 2004 - by BioNews 
Sir Alec Jeffreys, the geneticist who invented the DNA fingerprinting technique, has expressed concerns over the cost and effectiveness of the UK Biobank project. In an article published in the Daily Telegraph, he said he has 'a real concern' that nothing useful will come out of the research. He also...
7 June 2004 - by BioNews 
Scientists in the US are hoping to secure funding for a 'biobank' project, similar to those being carried out in Iceland, Estonia and the UK. The US National Institutes of Health (NIH) wants to collect genetic and medical information on half a million volunteers, to study the effects of genes...
26 September 2003 - by BioNews 
UK Biobank this week outlined a new Ethics and Governance framework for its massive data-gathering exercise. The project aims to build a major research resource to improve prevention, diagnosis and treatment of illness by following, they hope, half a million volunteers aged 45-69 for many years. Volunteers' test results...
28 July 2003 - by BioNews 
According to the UK's Observer newspaper, the UK Biobank is to begin recruiting its first volunteers next year. Biobank, hosted at the University of Manchester, is a project that aims to collect and store DNA samples and medical information from up to 500,000 volunteers aged between 45-69 years. The...
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